The UC Regents have voted to spend over $3 million on bonuses to medical center administrators during a time when they are raising student fees, reducing salaries (furloughs), laying off workers and lecturers, and pleading poverty. The justification for these raises is that the university needs to pay the market price for these extraordinary individuals. Of course, this means that all of the other workers are not worthy of market-based salaries. Moreover, the regents have argued that since only a small part of the medical centers’ budgets are funded by the state, the medical executives do not have to share in their current austerity measures. This claim neglects the fact that state funds have built the medical centers and these institutions gain access to grants and prestige because they are associated to the University of California.
On the same day that the regents voted on these special executive pay increases, the Los Angeles Times reported that the UCI medical center was once again facing an investigation by the federal government for the medical center’s lack of oversight. Here are some of the problems cited by the federal investigation:
* An 82-year-old man was mistakenly given a narcotic patch by a medical resident, without approval of doctors or pharmacists. The patch led to an overdose that required emergency intervention and may have contributed to his death a week later.
* A patient in the neuropsychiatric unit fell twice in three days and despite yelling "Help me, doctor, help me," suffered a head injury and had to be taken to intensive care.
* An on-call resident did not respond to repeated emergency pages from nurses in the neurological intensive care unit, where a patient with an irregular heartbeat languished for more than an hour.
• Pharmacists failed to monitor and store drugs correctly, allowing nurses to carry narcotics in their pockets and inject patients without proper oversight.
Of course, everybody makes mistakes, but when there is a long history of repeated mistakes, the administration should be held accountable.
As the LA Times story reminds us, “In 2005, the hospital closed its liver transplant program after The Times reported 32 people died awaiting livers in 2004 and 2005, even as doctors turned down organs later successfully transplanted elsewhere. In 1999 and 2000, the university's Willed Body Program drew criticism after its director performed unauthorized autopsies and sold body parts. In 1995, a team of fertility doctors at the school's Center for Reproductive Health was accused of stealing patients' eggs and embryos and implanting them in other patients without permission.”
One has to wonder if an institution with such a bad track record should be allowed to give its executives huge bonuses.